Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sunflower takes aim at Whole Foods

When I saw the headline, “Whole Foods challenger coming to town” on the Statesman’s website this morning, I immediately assumed we were finally getting a Trader Joe’s. No such luck on that count yet.

What we are getting is a 30,000 square-foot Sunflower Farmers Market at the corner of Manchaca and William Cannon. The store is set to open in November. Sunflower plans to open four or five more Austin stores in the next two years.

Sunflower started in Boulder, Colo. in 2002 and has since grown to 14 stores across the Southwest. They purport to sell quality produce and hormone-free meats at prices significantly lower than Whole Foods. Eschewing the epicurean palace model of Whole Foods, Sunflower markets itself as a manageably-sized natural grocer with low overhead.

A quick glance at this week’s circular for Sunflower’s Boulder store reveals boneless chicken breasts at $1.97 a pound and two eight-ounce baskets of organic strawberries for $3. Those sound a lot like Sun Harvest prices, which makes sense since Sunflower’s CEO is Mike Gilliland, co-founder of former Sun Harvest parent Wild Oats Market. Wild Oats was swallowed by Whole Foods last year in a controversial $565 million buyout, but Sun Harvest was sold off to Southern California-based grocer Smart & Final.

Gilliland and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey have a history of competitive trash talk. During the 90s, Mackey sent Gilliland the board game Risk with a note reading, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

For the sake of our town’s collective grocery bill, here’s hoping Gilliland returns the corporate bitch-slap.


Myackie said...

Did you notice the address on Sunflower's website? Williams Canyon & Manchaca. Ha!

M1EK said...

A natural grocer everybody has to drive that far to is less green than the least green grocer in the city. Not Impressed.

Greg said...

I'll give you that, m1ek. I do think Sunflower's model of "small" 30,000 SF stores has more potential to address the traffic/pollution issue than the 100,000+ SF power center anchors favored by H-E-B, Wal-Mart, Target, etc.

My hope is that Sunflower eventually finds its way to pedestrian/bike friendly locations in Austin that don't necessarily require car travel.

Karla said...

I would KILL for chicken breasts at 2 bucks a pound. I (today) paid nearly $15 a pound for them here in Norway. (139 Norwegian kroner per kilo at about 5 kroner to the dollar.)

Even though I have very close friends working at Whole Foods, it would be nice to have some competition.